Virtual Office? How to Decide If You Really Need Office Space

During the COVID pandemic, many professionals have had to work remotely, leaving their office spaces empty most of the time. Many CPAs and accounting firms here in Pennsylvania are now wondering if remote staff would be a good business model in the future. There are pros and cons to both the office model and the virtual or remote model, but there are also solutions to most of the disadvantages. 

Pros and Cons of the Office Model

“Going into the office” is a longstanding tradition – primarily because there was no real alternative. Face-to-face interaction and meetings with co-workers and clients, office computers and copiers, and hard copies of documents were only available “at work.” As technology has blossomed in the last 20 years, we’re not limited to the office – but it still has advantages.

Many people like and need the structure of office life and the interaction with co-workers to work most efficiently. Collaboration and innovation blossom in a face-to-face environment. Businesses are still seen as more “legitimate” when they have an office footprint and a business address. And some sensitive documents or critical conversations are better kept in a private environment. 

One of the biggest disadvantages of office space is, of course, the cost of overhead. Mortgage or rental costs, utilities, maintenance, and business equipment are major expenses. Growing or downsizing requires significant time and expense when you’re dependent upon a physical space. And maintaining a positive office culture can take a great deal of effort when people are working closely, day in and day out.

Pros and Cons of the Remote Model

Having a staff that works from home seems to be the answer to all the disadvantages of the office model – and it is, but it has its own disadvantages.

Having a firm that works entirely or almost entirely from home saves significant overhead costs, but it actually increases the effort needed to maintain a positive office culture and can have a negative impact on productivity. You need to make a substantial effort to keep your teams communicating and working effectively together, to create a sense of cohesion in the firm, and to ensure the security of client data.

Consumers take a company more seriously when it has a business address because it seems more established and reliable. Most people are less likely to entrust their personal financial information to someone who appears to them to be less committed or stable. And remember, it’s easy to do an online search of your company address. If it comes up in a residential neighborhood rather than a business district, you will appear less credible.

Solutions to Problems

Several alternative office models have grown in recent years that many companies, from start-ups and entrepreneurs to major accounting firms, are taking advantage of in order to stretch their dollar and provide flexible office space. These are coworking and hoteling. Both offer shared space, but a little differently.

Coworking offers shared office space with other organizations or individuals. The intention is to foster collaboration and idea-sharing as well as networking opportunities and to foster a sense of community. Hoteling allows a person who doesn’t always need office space to book a desk or meeting room for a limited time. Depending on your firm, either one of these options could be the solution to your office needs, providing your company with a business address and legitimacy along with space to meet with clients or coworkers. 

For your staff who work remotely, there are many online technologies available to allow you to connect with coworkers and clients and also provide you with the necessary oversight and incentives to maintain efficiency, accuracy, and company morale. The options are numerous. To give just a few examples: Remote meeting solutions include GotoMeeting, Slack, and Skype for Business. Project management solutions specially designed for accountants include Teamhood and Jetpack Workflow. Employee recognition platforms such as Fond, Assembly, Kudos, and Bonusly can show your appreciation to your employees and maintain morale.

Secure cloud storage and secure client portals are critical in our industry. Some respected services include Citrix Sharefile, SmartVault, and ProConnect Link.

Review the needs of your firm and your short- and long-term goals. Weigh the options to determine whether having dedicated office space, a shared arrangement, or a virtual office is best for you.